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Presbyterian Worship Outside Of The Established Church Of Scotland





Whether they were right or wrong ... no man of fairness will fail to
allow that the record of the Seceders all through the period of
decadence was a noble one, a record of splendid service to the cause of
Christ and the historic Church of Scotland.--M'CRIE.




No review of Presbyterian Worship would be complete which failed to
consider the spirit which has characterized those large sections of the
Church which exist in Scotland outside of the Establishment, and those
also which have been planted and fostered in the New World.

In 1733 the first Secession Church was formed, when Ebenezer Erskine,
William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff, and James Fisher, protesting
against what they regarded as the unjust treatment accorded them by the
prevailing party in the Church, were declared to be no longer members
of the Church of Scotland. This Secession Church enjoyed a rapid
growth, and soon came to form a very influential section in the
Presbyterianism of the land. Its principles and practices with regard
to worship show that same suspicion of a ritual and partiality for a
free form of worship which has always characterized the Presbyterian
Church in the days of her greatest vigor. In 1736 this Church
published its judicial testimony, in which it declared its loyalty to
the Directory of Worship as the same was approved by the Assembly of
1645. Some years later one section of this Church, known as the
Antiburgher, published a condemnation of the corruptions of worship as
witnessed in England and Wales, and at a subsequent period a further
manifesto, in which the reading by ministers of their sermons in the
public ministry of the Word was condemned, as was also "the conduct of
those adult persons who, in ordinary circumstances, either in public,
in private, or in secret, restrict themselves to set forms of prayer,
whether these be read or repeated." The same manifesto, in a part
treating of Psalmody, claimed for the Psalms Divine authority, as
suitable for the service of praise, in the Christian as well as in the
Old Testament dispensation, but acknowledged that, in addition to
these, "others contained in the New Testament itself may be sung in the
ordinance of Praise."

Similar to this position was that of the United Associate Synod, which,
formed in 1820, published, seven years later, its views on the subject
of worship. It condemned "the conduct of adult persons who restricted
themselves to set forms of prayer, whether read or whether repeated;"
it acknowledged also that other parts of Scripture besides the Psalms
were suitable for praise, and, with regard to the use of the Lord's
Prayer in public worship, a matter which had caused much discussion
within the Church in earlier times, it asserted that:


"As Scripture Doxologies and the Divinely-approved petition of saints
may be warrantably adopted in our devotional exercises, both public and
personal, so may the Lord's Prayer be used by itself or in connection
with other supplications."


Other manifestos were published from time to time by different bodies
as separations or unions took place, for the early part of the past
century was a period of frequent divisions and of more happy unions.
But while differences existed with regard to the use of paraphrases and
human hymns in the service of praise, on the general subject of
simplicity of worship and absence of prescribed forms, the manifestos
previous to the middle of the century were a unit. As late indeed as
1872, in a deliverance of the United Presbyterian Church upon the
subject of instrumental music in public worship, this jealousy of
simplicity in worship hitherto enjoyed is evident. To a consideration
of that subject this Church had been led by the example of the
Established Church in securing to its congregations liberty of action
in the matter. The United Presbyterian Synod, in a deliverance in
which it declined to pronounce judgment upon the introduction of
instrumental music in Divine service, proceeded to urge upon the courts
of the Church, and upon individual ministers, the duty of guarding
anxiously the simplicity of worship in the sanctuary. Not until recent
years has any considerable section of the Presbyterian Church shown a
tendency to return to the bondage of a ritual.

The views of the bodies above referred to will be differently estimated
by different men. Some will be inclined to regard the Secessionists as
narrow in spirit and severe in their simplicity, and as often failing
to exhibit a due regard for the beauty of holiness that should
characterize Divine worship. It will surely, however, indicate on the
part of those who read their history a want of appreciation if they
fail to recognize the sturdy spiritual life which, forming, as it ever
does, the truest foundation for right views of religion, marked these
men of whom an eminent leader in the religious life of Scotland has
said "they stood for Truth and Light in days when the battle went sore
against them both; and as long as Truth and Light are maintained in
Scotland it will not be forgotten that a great share of the honor of
having carried them safe through some of our darkest days, was given by
God to the Seceders."

The period of the disruption in Scotland was one of such struggle
concerning great and fundamental principles of Church government, that
the Free Church, during the first quarter of a century of its existence
as a separate communion, had little time to devote to a consideration
of the subject of worship; with the work of organization at home, and
afterwards in seeking to carry forward evangelization abroad it was
fully occupied. It was for the Free Church, as also for the
Established Church, a period of revival and of new life, and at such a
time men think but little of form and method, finding spiritual
satisfaction in the voluntary and spontaneous worship which such an
occasion develops. The practice, however, of the Free Church in
worship, and its uniform tendency, was decidedly un-liturgical; freedom
from prescribed forms in prayer and an absence of ritual marked its
services during the half-century of its existence as a separate
communion. So emphatic was its devotion to absolute liberty on the
part of the worshippers that it was the last of the great Presbyterian
bodies in Scotland to take any steps towards a further control of
public worship other than that which is provided in the Directory.

About the year 1885 the Presbyterian Churches of England and of
Australia appointed committees to consider the matter of a uniform
order and method of public worship, and these in each case devoted
their efforts to the revision of the Westminster Directory, and in
neither has anything more liturgical been suggested than the repetition
of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer by the people. The orders of
service recommended are more lengthy than that of the Westminster
Directory, but are similar in their general character. The hesitation
shown in accepting even such slight changes as were suggested and the
vigorous debates which resulted, furnish abundant evidence that the
spirit of both of these Churches is still strong in favor of voluntary
and untrammeled worship.

It is but right that in reviewing public worship outside of the
Established Church, reference should be made to the practice of those
large sections of the Presbyterian Church which, originating in
Scotland, have grown strong in other lands.

The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America has exhibited
in the main the same spirit that has characterized Presbyterian bodies
across the sea. In 1788 the Synod of New York and Philadelphia adopted
among other symbols the Westminster Directory for the Worship of God,
abbreviating it somewhat, but changing its instructions in no material
respect. There has been but little legislation by this Church
concerning this subject. In 1874 the General Assembly declared the
practice of a responsive service in the public worship of the sanctuary
to be without warrant in the New Testament, and to be unwise and
impolitic in view of its inevitable tendency to destroy uniformity in
the form already accepted. It further urged upon sessions of Churches
to preserve in act and spirit the simplicity indicated in the
Directory. This judgment of the American Church with regard to the
influence of a liturgy in public worship is not materially different
from that of the framers of the Directory as it is set forth in their
strongly-worded preface. In 1876 the Assembly declined to send down to
presbyteries an overture declaring that responsive readings are a
permissible part of worship in the sanctuary, although it declined at
the same time to recommend sessions to make the question a subject of
Church discipline. Six years afterwards it again refused to "prepare
and publish a Book of Forms for public and social worship and for
special occasions which shall be the authorized service-book of the
Church to be used whenever a prescribed formula may be desired;" the
reason given for such refusal, however, was the inexpediency of such a
step in view of "the liberty that belongs to each minister to avail
himself of the Calvinistic or other ancient devotional forms of the
Reformed Churches, so far as may seem to him for edification." This
explanation clearly indicates that, while the American Church is in
sympathy with the necessity on the part of ministers, of a due and
orderly discharge of all public services, yet it is unwilling to lay
itself open to the charge of even suggesting the imposition of forms
upon the Church for use on stated occasions. An optional liturgy has
not been without its advocates among the leaders in this influential
section of the Church. Such eminent and wise men as Drs. Charles and
A. A. Hodge and Dr. Ashbel Green confessed themselves as in favor of
the introduction of such forms for optional use, and Dr. Baird in his
"Eutaxia" and other writers have argued vigorously from the example of
sister churches of the continent of Europe for a return to the practice
which they regarded as historically Presbyterian. As yet, however, the
Church has preferred liberty to even suggested restriction.

The results in this Church, it cannot be denied, are not all that could
be desired. The Directory is but little studied by ministers, and has
by many been practically set aside. Frequently each congregation in
the matter of worship is a law unto itself. Responsive readings have
been introduced in some places, and choir responses after prayer in
others; in some congregations the people join in the repetition of the
Creed and the Lord's Prayer, while in others neither of these is heard;
in one the collection has become a formal offertory; in another it
affords an opportunity for the rendition of a musical selection by the
choir. Worship in this great Church is at the present time
characterized by the absence of a desirable uniformity, which it was
one evident purpose of the Directory to secure, and in some of its
congregations by the use of symbolism that occasionally becomes
extravagant, and which is calculated to appeal entirely to the
imagination, the result frequently being a service not attaining to
that dignity which an authorized liturgy fosters, while it sacrifices
that simplicity in which Presbyterians have been accustomed to glory.

The United Presbyterian Church in America, the result of so many happy
unions, has always regarded simplicity in worship as an end earnestly
to be desired, and worthy of all serious effort to secure. Its
influence has, therefore, been uniformly in favor of that avoidance of
forms against which the Seceders of Scotland, whom it represents on
this continent, so often protested.

The Presbyterian Church, South--that Church whose history has been
characterized by a loyalty so unswerving to the doctrinal standards of
Presbyterianism, by a spirit so wisely aggressive in evangelistic and
missionary effort, and by a ministry so scholarly and eloquent, has, in
the matter of public worship, shown as constant a fidelity to the
Westminster Directory as in doctrine it has shown to the Confession of
Faith. There have been attempts made to introduce changes looking
towards the adoption of optional liturgical forms, but these have been
few, and they have been rejected in such a way as to leave no room for
doubt as to the mind of the Church in this matter.

The Directory has been ably revised, but it still remains a Directory,
suggestive and eminently suitable to present requirements of the
Church. Serious and persevering attention has been given to the praise
service, and no less than three Hymnals have received and now enjoy the
Church's imprimatur. Public worship in Divine service has retained a
much greater uniformity among the Presbyterians of the Southern States
than among their brethren in the North, and there has been less
yielding to the popular demand for those features in worship that
appeal to the imagination, and which so often serve to entertain rather
than to edify.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada, owing to the ties that bind it to
the Churches of the Old Land, has closely followed their practice, and
its method in worship has been characterized by a similar spirit. No
authoritative or mandatory formulas have been imposed upon it, nor does
it seem likely that such would be received should they be proposed.
Reverence and dignity have in general characterized its public
services, and yet in recent years those changes which have gradually
been introduced into the worship of the Church in that part of the
American Republic lying contiguous to the Dominion have made their
appearance in Presbyterian worship in Canada. The chief result has
been, as in that Church also, an unfortunate want of uniformity in this
part of divine service. There has always been a constant and due
regard paid to all parts of worship provided for in the Directory, and
the neglect of any of these parts cannot be seriously charged against
any considerable part of the Church, but congregations have frequently
considered themselves at liberty to change their order and to vary them
as circumstances seem to demand. It is this feature as much as any
that has in recent years led to an agitation for the improvement of
public worship, and that is calling the earnest attention of the Church
to a matter of supreme importance.

Until very recently then, all branches of the Presbyterian Church in
the British Empire and those bodies in the United States whose
standards have been those of Westminster, have refused to recognize the
need for any other formula of worship than that, or such as that,
provided in the Directory. And where any considerable desire for
change and improvement has been found, it has expressed itself usually
as favorable to a revised Directory rather than as desirous of the
adoption by the Church of a liturgy, however simple.

Those great sections of the Church which have been most active in the
work of Home and Foreign Evangelization, a work that has especially
claimed attention during this century, have found the simple worship of
our fathers well suited to the cultivation of the spiritual life that
must of necessity lie behind all such efforts, and to the development
of the reverent and devotional spirit so characteristic of an
aggressive Christianity. The Church has been true to the traditions
and principles so loyally maintained in the days of her heroic
struggles in the past, and along these lines she has found in her
public worship blessing and inspiration for her peaceful toils, even as
our fathers in their day found in similar worship strength and revived
courage with which to meet their difficulties and to endure persecution.





Next: Modern Movements In Presbyterian Churches Respecting Public Worship

Previous: Legislation Concerning Public Worship In The Period Subsequent To The Revolution Of 1688



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